‘The Van’ Short Film Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

The Van directed by Erenik Beqiri shows the resilience of a young man who needs to pay his wait out of Albania. He already works during the day with his father but it isn’t enough to survive. What we see is two different perceptions of how to survive. Ben (Phénix Brossard) finds side hustles in order to survive, whereas his father (Arben Bajraktaraj) believes in hard work. The generational divide is ultimately put to the test, when Ben joins a fighting ring, in order to earn some extra cash. The family drama highlights the lengths people will go to for their family.

The film is beautifully shot and the aspect ratio benefits the story, as we fully see the Ben’s physique in the frame. Each time Ben exits the van, his wounds get worse. The close ups are completely necessary in showing his pain and his emotions while processing his next move. The lighting choices were also effective because of the contrast of warmth and steely tones in certain scenes. The yellowish tones were used when Ben was safe at home with his father, whereas the steely blues were used near the van. The technical aspects of this film worked extremely well and made and elevated the story.

The Van de Erenik Beqiri (2019) - UniFrance
Courtesy of Anima Pictures

The Van is a short film that shows the journey of a father and son, trying to make their way out of a life that seems impossible to advance in. Ben is pushed to his limits and doesn’t quite know when, or even how, to stop these actions. Once he sees the money payoff, it is hard to leave the toxic environment. It is a brutal story of making a living and Ben does teach his father about how to function in this new era of society. The only way to survive is to cut corners, even if there are difficult tasks being handed to you.

‘Umama’ Short Film: Interview With Talia Smith And Malibongwe Mdwaba

By: Amanda Guarragi

Umama written and directed by Talia Smith shows the true story of a mother whose son has gone missing. It is a story of love, loss and acceptance. The morning after Sibongile made a promise to celebrate her son’s academic achievement, she wakes to find he is missing. Sibongile (Connie Chiume) still goes into work and she must care for the children, of her employer, in order to get home and keep her promise. Before heading to NYU, Smith was born and raised in South Africa. She wanted to highlight these stories in the most honest way. Smith had a personal connection to the story because of her childhood. She had a second mother, which is an Americanized way of labelling her as a ‘domestic worker’. Smith wanted to showcase her heritage through these special relationships.

What started out as a class assignment for Talia Smith had turned into a very important film exploring South African culture,

“This is a very common South African story, but on top of that, non-South Africans can relate to the universal theme but also start to see South Africans, not only their stories, but their talent. There are so many incredible stories so I hope that comes across to non-South Africans audiences.”

– Talia Smith, Umama

The beauty of this story is the connection between Sibongile and the children she cared for, even the dynamic between the mother (her employer) and Sibongile. There is a level of respect and love that can only be felt by those who have experienced connections such as theirs. It is essentially like choosing your own family and at the end of the day, they will support you through anything. That is the love that is shared in this film. Sibongile is having a difficult time with her teenage son Thabiso (Malibongwe Mdwaba). She feels detached from his life but Thabiso is trying to venture out and create his own path.

When watching Umama, we see both perspectives in a balanced way. The worried mother, who is trying her best to work and raise her son. And the teenager, who is trying to survive his high school years by making the right decisions. When asked about his own connection to Thabiso, Mdwaba said,

“To be taken back to that sort of timeline, gave me the time to see the bigger picture and heal from those moments. It really spoke to the kind of work that I love doing. That’s any work that has to do with mirroring society, in the most truthful manner and rarely do we get those stories, where we are literally not fabricating anything and we are just telling it as it is.”

– Malibongwe Mdwaba, Umama

We have all gone through our own hardships, in our teenage years and Mdwaba used this character to heal from his own experiences. There was so much thought, care and love that went into this story.

What Smith and Mdwaba hope audiences gain from this story is the connectivity of human relationships. It does not matter how you are connected to the other person, all that matters is the love and respect that is shared. Smith has had discussions with psychologists that deal with families in a lot of these situations and she is trying to create a toolkit,

“Once people have watched the film, if you relate to a character you will be able to kind of see how you fit into that category and figure out something that you may need, or how you can help other people in your life find resources.”

– Talia Smith, Umama

To see an extension of love and support in this way through filmmaking, just shows how genuine Smith is. Her stories will always be rooted in something honest and personal. It is a reflection of how she sees the world and how she wants people to perceive it through universal themes.

In France Michelle Is A Man’s Name Short Film Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

In France Michelle Is A Man’s Name is about a young trans man, named Michael (Ari Damasco), who returns home to the rural American West after being away from his family for years. After a very awkward dinner, Michael joins his dad for a drive for some bonding but things go sour very quickly. This short film is very difficult to sit through because of how painful it is. For a trans man to experience something like this, at the the hand of his father made this extremely emotional.

Director Em Weinstein subtly takes the viewer on a journey of what it means to be Michael. There are small moments that make you realize how Michael is feeling and how people around him affect his view on the world. There is so much that is shown to the viewer, it almost works as a silent film in a way. There are such tender, emotional moments that cut through your heart because of how traumatic they are. No one realizes how certain moments in one’s life can affect them in the long run.

We can all recall a moment that affected us deeply that we still think about until this day. We play it again and again in our head, dissecting what that moment truly was and it’s heartbreaking. What Michael faced was emotionally damaging and you could see the mixture of emotions on his face. There was so much he wanted to say and he so badly wanted to stop what was happening. These moments, where you freeze and just accept what’s happening to you are the moments that shape who you are.

In France Michelle Is A Man’s Name is an emotional journey through the eyes of a young trans boy and it will leave you heartbroken. It is a difficult but necessary watch, as Em Weinstein shows so much honesty in this short film. It shows the fabricated ideal of masculinity through fatherhood and the assumptions made because of gender conformity. It’s a film that will stay with you after you’ve watched it. It’s hard to process any form of trauma but seeing it through a difference lens can help so many people.

Foreigner Short Film Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

Foreigner directed by Carlos Violadé Guerrero is beautifully shot and the story is truly shocking. It takes place in the summer off the coast of Spain. A young man from Britain named Mark (Josh Taylor) visits his friends and has dinner with them. The first half of this film feels so calm and serene, just a nice adventure in Spain during the summer months. At first I thought this was going to be a romantic story, just by the way certain glances were exchanged but this adventure did not go down that path.

The strength lies in the direction and how Guerrero moves his characters through scenes. The atmosphere that was created felt light and fun at the beginning. The location was beautiful, calm and scenic, like everything was right in the world. It felt like you were going on a vacation with these wonderful people and it took you out of reality for a little while. In the middle of the film, when they were drinking around the pool and Mark was going for a swim. One of the men, Amaro (Luka Peros) seemed to enjoy talking to him and this is when I thought it was going to be turned into a romance.

However, when the husband invited him for a little boat trip around the island, something felt off. The romantic story that I had originally planned in my head evaporated so quickly and my heart sunk. The ocean is a scary place. It’s vast, uncontrollable and seemingly bottomless. What happens in the second half of this film was completely unexpected and it had me glued to the screen. The way Guerrero captured Mark’s struggle in the middle of the ocean was incredible, especially the waves at night. The darkness of the sea combined with the strength of the water made for an anxiety-ridden watch.

Foreigner will make you question travelling to places with people you barely know. It will have you at the edge of your seat because of the story that unfolds in the middle of the ocean. This was such a thrilling short film and I wish I could watch it again for the first time. Everything was perfectly placed and nothing happened out of convenience. It was definitely a journey and Guerrero kept surprising his audience. So much happens in a short period of time and it still leaves you wanting more.

Dummy Short Film Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

Dummy follows a detained suspect, as he walks investigators through the scene of his loathsome crimes. Surprisingly, his law-enforcement escort makes an unnerving display of fellowship. On the surface, the film is beautifully shot and writer-director Laurynas Bareisa makes some great choices while navigating through the forest. It’s also a very interesting perspective if you really think about it. Not many filmmakers show this side of a crime scene, especially with the detained suspect. So to write a film from this perspective was definitely unique.

The issue with Dummy is that the one woman working with the team, Miglé is the only one taking notes and actually detaching herself from the story. The rest of the men listening to the detained suspect are hanging on his every word and getting to know him as a person. As if his actions of rape and murder of a woman is a minor flaw. Miglé keeps her distance and the men are constantly jabbing with poor jokes. It was hard to sit there and hear them joke around, when the rapist is just casually explaining what he did to the woman.

When they finally got to the end of the crime scene, the detained subject wanted to go for a swim and the rest of the men allowed him to. Miglé stayed on land, while the rest of the men joined him in the water. This showed that it was a boys club and that the treatment of women wasn’t important enough to hold this man accountable for his actions. It was just really jarring and unsettling. In such a short amount of time, the group dynamic is established and the treatment of Miglé is horrible. There was one moment where the rapist reenacts what he did with the dummy that was used through this journey. The men around him made jokes involving Miglé and it was incredibly disturbing.

At first, Dummy just seems like a regular investigation but as the story goes on, it becomes so much more than that. The writing from Laurynas Bareisa is incredibly strong because he doesn’t pack the dialogue. He plants certain remarks and keywords to make you realize that these men are actually horrible. The story progresses slowly but it definitely leaves you with so much to unpack. It is an entirely different perspective on how to write story showing the treatment of women.